Why Everyone Is Asking for a Tip Now

Why Everyone Is Asking for a Tip Now

Gratuity solicitations are on the rise across the service sector. Here's why.

They tried to get rid of tipping a while back, before the pandemic, remember? It was contextualized as sexist and exploitative. This rebellion, strongly backed by local unions, failed mostly because tipped employees saw wages go down at restaurants that shifted to a service charge model. 

Tipping’s survival proved useful in 2020–21, when customers tipped grandly to show their appreciation to a beleaguered industry. Tips routinely shot up to a third of bills, and suddenly quick- and limited-service eateries began prompting for tips. And people complied, even in an environment where prices have risen dramatically, which means tips have risen accordingly. To some the ultimate expression of this trend was tipping’s arrival at Target Field this summer. 

The advent of arena tipping was connected to a HERE 17 union-led effort to standardize practices across the area’s sports venues. Because Target Field is now cashless, every customer sees a tipping prompt when they pay at a food venue. “It has resulted in a practical wage increase of $3–$6/an hour for staff; it’s helped us with recruitment and retention” in a difficult labor market, says Pete Spike, general manager for ballpark concessionaire Delaware North SportsService. Spike is hoping the potential for tips will motivate higher-quality as well. 

Businesses choose tip options offered to guests at point-of-sale terminals, now ubiquitous across the quick-service realm and making  inroads in full-service restaurants. While many stick to the traditional 10%-15%-20%, some are prompting 22%, 25%, and even 30%—even in counter-service establishments. Solicitations are also expanding to retail food businesses like Breadsmith. 

“Prompting makes tips go up,” explains Patti Soskin, owner of Yum! (St. Paul, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka), who says the vast majority of customers tip from the prompt options. 

“People are tipping higher now,” says Facundo DeFraia, owner of Boludo in Minneapolis, which is nonetheless getting ready to switch to a service-charge model. 

Yum!, a limited-service restaurant, offers the standard 10%-15%-20% prompts, while Blue Plate Restaurants, which use a system of Toast handhelds to process checks tableside, offer 15%-18%-20%. A spokesperson for Blue Plate said tipping remained elevated, but not as high as during the peak of the pandemic. 

Read more from this issue